Critique of the writings of Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, Chair of Catholic Studies, University of Toldeo
Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D. Professor of Systematic Theology, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI
(Sent to an interested party in 2004)
Dear [Name Withheld]
I wish to apologize for the delay in getting back to about the writings of Richard Gaillardetz. I wanted to read through two of his earlier works before reviewing the book you sent. I have also ordered a copy of his most recent book, A Daring Promise, on the sacrament of matrimony (and I will send my observations on that text soon). I am grateful to Dr. Lawrence Welch, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Kenrick School of Theology in St. Louis, for alerting me to a problem in this new book, viz., the advice to couples to “follow their conscience” if they cannot embrace the Church’s teaching on contraception.” Before I begin my review of various writings, I wish to thank you again for asking me to conduct this research. I have benefited from this inquiry as it has helped me understand how certain Magisterial texts, taken out of context, can be used to justify some questionable theses. Dr. Gaillardetz is an intelligent man, and he is familiar with many primary sources of the Church. There are, however, some problems that emerge. These I will try to substantiate in the following review of three books of his.
A) Witnesses to the Faith: Community, Infallibility, and the Ordinary Magisterium of Bishops (Paulist Press, 1992).
This book is a revision of Gaillardetz’s doctoral thesis completed at the University of Notre Dame. In the acknowledgements, he thanks his mentor, Fr. Thomas O’Meara, O.P., along with Professors Richard McBrien, Richard McCormick and Lawrence Cunningham.
There are several points to note:
p. 28. Pope Pius IX’s 1863 letter, Tuas Libenter to the archbishop of Munich-Freising is cited to support the thesis that “the universal and constant consent of Catholic theologians” is needed to establish a teaching of “the ordinary teaching power of the whole Church spread throughout the whole world as divinely revealed” (Denz-Hün. *2879). Gaillardetz writes: “In fact, based on the wording of the papal brief, it would seem legitimate to conclude that where there is no universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians the infallibility of a teaching of the ordinary Magisterium might itself be called into question.” Thus, Gaillardetz attempts to have the consensus of the theologians as the determining factor for the discernment of the infallibility of the universal ordinary Magisterium.In the actual text, however, Pius IX’s teaches that an act of divine faith is not limited to what has been defined by express decrees of ecumenical councils or Popes but also “to those matters which are handed on as divinely revealed by the ordinary Magisterium of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world and, therefore, are held, by the universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians, as belonging to the faith” (ideoque universali et constanti consensu a catholicis theologis ad fidem pertinire retinentur). The Latin, ideoque, in this context means “and therefore” or “and for that reason” or “and on that account.” It indicates that the universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians follows as a result of the universal and ordinary teaching of the Magisterium.
p. 33. Gaillardetz attempts to explain Pius IX’s “increasing concentration of ecclesiastical power in Rome” to an “apocalyptic vision” that attached “too much weight to prophecies and other manifestations of the miraculous.” This strikes me as a way of downplaying the role of the Holy Spirit in the definition of papal infallibility at Vatican I.
p.143. Mention is made of the “reception” of a teaching by the faithful and by theologians as a “sign” of its infallibility.While it is true that the faithful and theologians should receive infallible teachings as infallible, Gaillardetz seems to suggest that this “reception” is the way by which we can determine that the teaching is infallible.
p. 169. In presenting Lumen gentium, 12 as the model for the infallibility of the sensus fidelium, Gaillardetz leaves out the phrase “guided by the sacred Magisterium, and obeying it” from the text. This seems to be a significant omission.
B) Teaching with Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium of the Church (The Liturgical Press, 1997).
p. 110. Gaillardetz asserts: “there are no solemnly defined dogmas that pertain to morals.”This statement, though, could suggest that there are no infallible moral judgments of the Magisterium. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, *2035, the infallibility of the Church “extends as far as does the deposit of divine revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed.”
pp. 111-114. On these pages, Gaillardetz explicitly endorses the moral theology of Josef Fuchs that claims there are no definitive or infallible concrete moral norms because of “changing moral contexts and empirical data” (p. 113). As is well-known, John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritatis splendor (1993) was intended as a refutation of the proportionalism of Fuchs and others. In no. 79-83, the Pope articulates the constant Catholic teaching on the intrinsic evil of certain concrete acts or categories of acts.
p. 117. Gaillardetz states that definitive doctrines of the Church “cannot attain the central position granted to the Church’s core dogmatic teachings.” This ignores what is noted by the 1998 Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the ‘Professio Fidei’ issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, viz., that certain definitive doctrines might develop to the point where the teaching could be defined to be believed as divinely revealed (no.11).
p. 120. Gaillardetz casts doubt on the number of ecumenical councils as being 21.
p. 122. Gaillardetz again suggests that concrete moral norms cannot be infallible or definitive but rather remain on the level of “non definitive, authoritative doctrine.”
p. 123. Fr. Charles Curran is cited as an authoritative source on moral theology.
p. 149. Gaillardetz endorses, in part, Hans Küng’s analysis of infallibility. He writes: “Küng rightly criticizes the linguistic impossibility of infallible propositions –human formulations that are immune from error.” If this position were taken to its logical conclusion, we could not recite the Creed on Sundays with confidence that it is immune from error.
p. 154. Gaillardetz states that: “the infallibility of the Church’s teaching office is ordered toward bringing to normative and prepositional expression what is infallibly believed by the whole people of God.” While this can, at times, be true, it could suggest that the Magisterium can only teach infallibly when there is a clear consensus fidelium. If this were the case, there would not have been a firm basis for the condemnation of Arianism at Nicea I and Constantinople I.
pp. 198-199. Doubts are again raised over the number of ecumenical councils as 21. An appeal is made to the distinction between “general” and “ecumenical” councils. As evidence for this distinction, reference is made to Paul VI’s 1974 letter that refers to Lyons II as the sixth of the general synods celebrated in the West. A careful reading of Catholic sources does not support the distinction between “general” and “ecumenical” noted by Gaillardetz. St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (1542-1621) refers to ecumenical councils as “concilia generalia” in De Conciliis et Ecclesia. “General” is from a Latin root and “ecumenical” is from a Greek root. Thus, in the Latin Systematic Index of Denzinger-Schönmetzer, general councils are equated with ecumenical councils. In H 1cc of the Index we read: “Concilium generale s. oecumenicum repraesentat universam Ecclesiam.” In Denzinger-Hünermann (37thed., 1991) the same identity is found in H 3cc of the Index, both in German (Ein allgemeines bzw. ökumenisches Konzil) and Italian (Un concilio generale o ecumenico). It also seems incredible that Paul VI would wish to question the number of ecumenical councils as 21. After all, he was present at the ceremonies marking the close of Vatican II. At that time, three Cardinals read this statement: “At this solemn moment, we, the Fathers of the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church…[emphasis mine]” (cf. Documents of Vatican II, Abbott, ed, p. 729).
p. 204. In describing the historical origins of the doctrine of papal infallibility, Gaillardetz bypasses Scripture and begins with Ignatius of Antioch. According to him, it seems as if the Petrine texts of the Gospel have little bearing on the subject.
p. 221. Gaillardetz states that the process of verifying whether a teaching has been taught infallibly “will generally be undertaken by theologians.” This gives the impression that when the bishops or the Pope proclaim a teaching as infallible, they must wait for the theologians to verify whether the teaching is indeed infallible.
p. 235. Gaillaredtz suggests that the “non-reception” of Humanae vitae by many Catholics could be a manifestation of the sensus fidelium at work. Once again, he seems to look to the “reception” of a teaching as the indication of its truth. This position undercuts the authority of the ecclesia docens.
p. 263. Gaillardetz states that: “the obstinate denial of a definitive doctrine would not necessarily place one outside the Roman Catholic communion.”However, the 1998 CDF Commentary on the Professio Fideinotes that whoever denies such definitive teachings “would be in a position of rejecting Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church” (no. 6).
p. 268. Gaillardetz appeals to Fr. Richard McCormick for his understanding of what is meant by a religious obsequium of intellect and will to authoritative doctrines. According to McCormick, obsequium means a “docile personal attempt to assimilate the teaching, an attempt that can end in ‘inability to assimilate’ (dissent).” What is missing is Lumen Gentium, 25’s own understanding of obsequium as sincerely adhering to such teachings of the Pope “according to his manifest mind and will.” How can one sincerely adhere to a teaching while dissenting from it?
pp. 269-270. Gaillardetz tries to defend the possibility of “legitimate dissent”and he suggests that such “legitimate dissent itself may be a manifestation of the Spirit in bringing the whole Church to truth” (p. 270). There does not seem to be any serious attempt to discuss the dangers of dissent according to the 1990 instruction On The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian of the CDF.
C) By What Authority: A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium and the Sense of the Faithful (The Liturgical Press, 2003).
p. xi of the Preface. Gaillardetzstates that: “Where one might speak of the Bible, the creed or a pope as possessing authority, this authority in fact resides in the relationship between the community of faith, the Bible, the creed or the pope.” While there is some truth to the idea that authority is relational, there is also the danger here of obscuring the divine source of the authority possessed by the Pope and the bishops.
p. 2. (and elsewhere in the book) Gaillardetz uses C.E. (common era) instead of A.D. He also states on this page that by the year 100 there were “no universally recognized episcopal structures.”This could imply that Christ did not establish the episcopacy. Yet, according to Vatican II, Christ willed that the successors of the apostles “should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world” (Lumen Gentium, 18).
p. 7. (and elsewhere) Gaillardetz shows an unwillingness to speak of God as “He.” Thus, he speaks of how “God must communicate God’s self to us.”
p. 8. Gaillardetz writes: “In the Eucharist, Christ is encountered in a manner that we speak of as ‘real’ and sacramental but not physical.” This contradicts the teaching of Paul VI expressed in Mysterium Fidei (1965) that, in the Eucharist, “Christ, whole and entire, in his physical ‘reality’ is bodily present, although not in the same way as bodies are present in a given place.”
p. 38. Gaillardetz still gives the impression that number of books in the canon of scripture is an open question in spite of the clear pronouncement of Trent on the subject (cf. Denz.-H * 1502).
p. 72. Gaillardetz raises questions about the propriety of having titular bishops. He does this within the context of a disputed question, but it shows a lack of appreciation of the sacred power of the episcopal office.
p. 88. In the disputed questions, Gaillardetz raises doubts about the definitive and infallible status of the teaching of Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994).
p. 96. He limits infallibility to “matters pertaining to our salvation.” The tradition phrase, though, is “matters of faith and morals.”
p. 102. Gaillardetz again raises doubts about the Magisterium’s ability to make definitive judgments on “specific moral teachings.” With respect to contraception, he suggests that the Church’s teaching might depend too much “on empirical data subject to change (e.g. embryological studies of what transpires in the earliest stages of contraception).” This is a strange observation since embryology would concern itself with human beings already conceived not with contraception.
p. 103. In spite of the 1995 Responsum ad Dubium of the CDF on the definitive, infallible status of the teaching of Ordinatio sacerdotalis, Gaillardetz still presents the matter as open to dispute since “some scholars have found the arguments put forward by the CDF unconvincing.”
pp. 113-115. Gaillardetz again presents his ambiguous theology of reception as a reliable criterion determining the authoritative status of Magisterial teachings.
p. 125. Gaillardetz seems to claim that a Catholic can, in good conscience, come to a decision to cohabitate before marriage or use contraception as long as her or she has given serious study and attention to the issue. In such a case, as he says, “I have done all the Church can ask of me and my inability to give an internal assent to this teaching does not in any way separate me from the Roman Catholic communion.” This strikes me as a very dangerous position to take.
p. 129. He asserts that the determination of the authoritative status of a church teaching is a responsibility that has been traditionally given to the community of theologians (in “good standing”). Of course, bishops often consult theologians, but the teaching office belongs to the bishops not the theologians.
pp. 130-131. The impression is given that a decision by a woman to have a “tubal ligation” is not a serious violation of a moral norm, especially when compared to more central dogmas like the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
132. In the disputed questions section, Gaillardetz describes the language of the 1998 CDF Commentary on the Professio Fidei as “ambiguous at best.” This reveals a lack of respect towards the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
I hope these comments are of some use. I have also copied some recent articles by Gaillardetz. I will read these carefully and send you my comments soon. May Jesus and His all-holy Mother bless and guide you. Thank you again for entrusting me with this research.
In Corde Iesu,
Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D.